Qualities of a Leader – According to Bhāgavatam (Part 1)

Canto Four, Chapter 16 (beginning from the fourth text) describes how the royal singers praised the newly enthroned King Pṛthu. This section reveals the essential qualities of an ideal leader.

This king upholds the best dharma
and shows the world how to follow dharma.
He is the guardian of dharma’s rules,
and the regulator of those who transgress them.

1) The leader leads by example.

We cannot regulate and punish those who transgress morality when we ourselves transgress morality.

The leader is not just a mighty warrior, but is intellectual and educated (or at least submissive to the guidance of the educated), otherwise he would not be able to discern “the best dharma.” This phrase indicates that not all dharmic principles are of equal weight, and yield to one another in certain situations. For example the dharma-setu of non-violence yields to the dharma-setu of protecting one’s young children from attackers. If the leader is merely a tank without brains, and is unwilling to submit to those with brains (or unable / too unfortunate to discern advisors with true brains from advisors who are opportunistic word-merchants) he will not be able to even comprehend dharma, much less uphold it by his personal example.

This king’s single form, therefore
Upholds the forms of all those who protect the world.
By giving everyone their rightful share at the proper time
He is the benefactor of the leaders and the led.

2) The leader empowers.

A good leader does not consolidate power to himself. He distributes power to those who are capable of helping him protect those he leads. A real king empowers others to be kings and never demands that all decisions go through him first.

He receives the riches of some, by taxation
and distributes it appropriately, at the right time.
His mighty welfare is equal to everyone,
as the powerful sun shines everywhere.

3) The leader is fair, and prudent.

The leader will collect money and resources from some of his subjects (those who have surplus), keep that wealth safe and secure, and use it in two cases: when there are deserving individuals who require assistance, or when an emergency or catastrophe befalls the people.

A leader cannot accomplish this unless he is fair. If he is partial to his family, his friends, his interests he will misuse and exploit the wealth and resources of his kingdom. The leader must desire the well-being of all citizens of his state (even those who are unhappy with and criticize him – as the next verse will make clear).

Thus, the Vedic conception of ideal state was to have a welfare state.


– Vraja Kishor dās


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